It seems like a lifetime ago when Africa’s first mobile money system, M-Pesa, was launched back in 2007. Today, M-Pesa has more than 50 million active monthly users across the continent, and it’s estimated that as many as 84% of Kenyan and 60% of Nigerian internet users made payments with mobile phones last year.
But mobile money is more than just a way to transact and exchange money. On a continent where the vast majority of the population is still without a bank account, it’s become a critical tool in driving financial inclusion.
And yet, while mobile payments are a fact of life for many Africans, the reality is that the continent is still being left behind when it comes to equal access to payment services. Dean Hiine, the co-founder and managing director for Africa for international calling app Talk360, estimates that 70% of all African consumers are currently unable to purchase international digital products and services.
“In Africa, we’re in our second decade of digital financial services. We’re world leaders in the field, and we’ve seen massive adoption of mobile money across the continent. This has been key to enabling financial inclusion for hundreds of millions of previously excluded Africans. But there’s still plenty of room for growth, both in mobile payments and accessibility to international services,” says Hiine.
Part of the problem is that two in every three people in sub-Saharan Africa are still on the wrong side of the digital divide. Mobile internet availability has increased significantly across the region, but as the IFC points out, uptake remains a problem. In theory, 70% of the regional population have access to mobile internet, but only around a third are using it.
This uptake gap affects the poor and vulnerable the most: the elderly, women, and rural households. If anything, the digital divide is growing. And it’s not a technology issue, it’s a social issue. The impact is significant: for tens of millions of people across the continent, something as simple as calling home remains an unthinkable luxury.
With 60% of the population under the age of 25, there is huge potential for mobile digital services. But we’ll first have to solve the accessibility problem, which starts with each country in Africa having its own unique card or wallet solution, differing payment cultures, and thousands of different payment providers. On top of that, most international digital services do not support local currencies.
For a company like Talk360, which enables people around the world to make reliable and affordable calls to any landline or mobile phone worldwide, this lack of payment options has been a major hindrance to its growth on the continent.
“There’s huge demand for mobile digital services, including low-cost calling, in Africa. But while we’re seeing rapid growth, with a growing number of paying users across the continent, accessibility remains a major issue for the many underserviced communities. Users either don’t have online banking to buy call credits, or their local currencies or payment methods are not supported,” says Hiine.
In typical fintech fashion, Talk360’s solution is ambitious in scale and reach. The company will launch its own payment platform next year: the world’s first single checkout combining all local currencies and payment methods across the African continent. And it’s not limited to Talk360, either: it will allow businesses to easily reach more than 500 million African consumers, who will be able to purchase services they never had access to before.
Hiine says closing the payment gap will enhance the lives of ‘hundreds of millions’ of consumers by offering access to reliable, affordable and easy-to-use digital services that bring them into the broader economy.
“We simply cannot afford to leave huge parts of the African population out of the financial mainstream any more. Their spending is key to the continent’s economic growth, and giving them the tools they need to access international services and to transact safely lowers inequality and opens up a host of economic and social benefits. The faster we close the payment gap, the better for the entire continent,” says Hiine.